The connection between food and memory is powerful. Most of my fondest food memories are from experiences later in life, including recent Mediterranean travels, as food was not a big deal in my family growing up (and I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since).
The first time I had sea urchin was in Chania, Crete, at a taverna called Waves on the Rock. To reach Waves, you have to travel down a windy road, passing a couple of mountain goats along the way, finally ending up on a fairly deserted beach with postcard-perfect water. And the food at Waves…so incredibly fresh, like it jumped right out of the Sea of Crete and on to your plate. This is a place where I am truly happy! Whenever I taste sea urchin (uni), with its subtle but briny flavor, it brings me back to this place.
At Waves, they serve a big plate of sea urchin in its own liquid.
Not surprisingly, sea urchin tastes best when first harvested. However, living in the Midwest, this of course is not possible. I tracked down some sea urchin (via California), at H Mart, an Asian grocery store in a Chicago suburb. While perusing the fish counter at H Mart, I also spotted some razor clams. Have never seen razor clams anywhere in Chicago, be it a grocery store or a restaurant. After a recent trip to Spain, where I tasted razor clams for the first time (and many times thereafter), I was pleasantly surprised to find some in Chicago. Needless to say, I scooped up a dozen (a steal at $4.99/pound). Sea urchin and razor clams, what a treat.
Spaghetti with Sea Urchin, Razor Clams, Squid, and Shrimp
1/2 pound of spaghetti (or bucatini)
6 razor clams (or your favorite variety)
1 dozen shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1/3 pound of squid, sliced into approximately 1/2 inch rings
1/2 tray sea urchin (and a few pieces for a delicious garnish)
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme for garnish
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cook the clams in about 1/2 cup of water until cooked through. Reserve the liquid. Remove the clams from their shells and set aside.
Boil and salt water to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta until it is about 3/4 of the way cooked. Remove the pasta from the water, and reserve the cooking liquid.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned, then add a large ladle of pasta water to the pan with the garlic.
Add the pasta to the pan with the garlic. A minute or two before the pasta has finished cooking, add the shrimp, squid, clams, and reserved cooking liquid from the clams.
Remove from the heat and toss with the sea urchin. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme. Serve immediately.
The urchin and pasta water combine to form a creamy, slightly briny sauce that will make you want to lick the plate clean.